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MAIN Arrow to Science Science Arrow to AstronomyAstronomy & Aerospace Arrow to meteor showers Meteor showers Arrow to Perseid meteor showersIson Comet

Comet McNaught in 2007

What: Ison a "sun scraping" comet only recently discovered in 2012.

When: As it nears the sun, Ison will become visible to the naked eye in October and reach its zenith on December 26, 2013.

Where: In the northern hemisphere, look toward the eastern sky at sunset or just before sunrise, as Ison appears to hang just above the horizon.

What to bring: binoculars and/or telescope, camera, tripod. lawn chair, bottled water and (weather depending), a thermos of hot chocolate.

Scientists are excitedly predicting that 2013 will be "The Year of the Comet."

Only recently discovered last year, the Ison comet has comet gazers watching carefully for a close encounter in the northern hemisphere -- for what astronomers predict will be an epic show in late autumn and early winter.

In fact, Ison has all the potential of a natural Christmas spectacular when it mimics the traditional "star of Bethlehem" that led the Wise Men to the manger in late December.

Of course, comets being what they are (roaming balls of ice and rock), there's really no telling how bright they will become. As comet hunter David Levy admits, "Comets are like cats. They have tails and do precisely want they want."

The comet Kohoutek, for example, was billed as the "comet of the century" back in 1973. It made an underwhelming appearance that year in December due to its partial disintegration as it neared the sun. For months afterward, late-night talk shows and stand-up comics made "Kohoutek" synonmous with spectacular duds.

Will the Ison have the same reputation? Time will tell.

Meanwhile, early excitement by scientists (not the media) predict Ison will outshine the moon, and will be visible even in daylight at its closest encounter at the end of the year.

Stay tuned...

When and where to look for PanSTARRS and Ison comets in 2013

For the Ison comet in late autumn-early winter, backyard astronomers in the Northern hemisphere are promised best viewing around December 26 as Ison appears to hang low in the eastern sky near the Leo constellation. Best viewing will begin about sunrise at 4AM.

giotto's adoration of the magi
When he painted the star of Bethlehem in his famous "Adoration of the Magi" medieval
artist Giotto was probably inspired by an appearance by Haley's comet, which appeared
on the horizon in 1301. Ison promises an equally spectacular December appearance.


How to view the Ison comet

Generally, the best place to observe comets or any celestial event is somewhere dark, away from light pollution, and with the moon out of the field of vision. The less surrounding light or other obstacles, the more brilliant the comet will appear.




Binoculars, telescope or camera?

While viewable to the naked eye, comets can best be seen through a pair of binoculars for casual up-close viewing. A more serious telescope will give more detail of its tail, and place the comet clearly in context amid its celestial surroundings.

Since comets are not fast-moving metor showers, high-speed camera settings and lightening trigger skills are not required! So take your time to focus and line up the best shot. Be sure to have the camera focused on infinity and, if your camera permits, leave the shutter open for several minutes for the most spectacular photographic effects.

More about the Ison comet around the Web:

Waiting for Ison - Stay current with British educator-astronomer Stuart Atkinson as he monitors the countdown to PanSTARRS and Ison comet sitings throughout the year.

C/2012 S1 (ISON) - Track Ison's orbit with this neat JAVA applet from NASA.

An Observing Guide for Comets - Step-by-step guide with advice on where, when and how to view comets, with interesting features to look for, and lots of related resources.

How to Photograph Comets - Here's another tutorial on setting up the shot, what to look for, along with some spectacular examples of comet photography.

 

also see in Science --> Astronomy photo gallery

Viewing Iceland's Northern Lights


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